Respectful Insolence

Orac gets e-mail.

Most of it’s just brief notes with a link that someone thinks I should check out (and possibly blog about). Even though I occasionally make sarcastic remarks about being deluged with one story or other from time to time, I actually do appreciate those. Many have been the times when I didn’t really have anything that floated my boat enough to blog about that a juicy tidbit sent by a reader prevented the blog from going dark for a day. Whether that’s always a good thing, I leave to the reader to judge.

Occasionally, I get mail profusely praising the blog. Affectation of an egomaniacal computer from a late 1970s British science fiction show notwithstanding, my first thought in receiving such e-mail is the famous line from Wayne’s World: “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy!” Whether I’m worthy or not, Ieave to the reader to judge. Not surprisingly, given the prickly nature of the Orac blog persona, some mail is equally profusely negative, often with numerous spelling errors, long sections of ALL CAPS, and references to homeopathy curing cancer and suggestions that God will strike me down one day. (Given that we all eventually die, doesn’t that mean God, if he exists, eventually strikes each and every one of us down, regardless of our righteousness as perceived by fundamentalist loons?)

Then occasionally I get mail like this. Or like this:

It seems that instead of discussing the [non-insolent] facts, you make personal attacks. It’s weak and unscientific. Most of your followers do also – much like an angry mob. Why all the mud slinging? What are you so afraid of? Do you actually think that if you are louder and more obnoxious that you are some how more right?

There are a number of things missing in your theories and statements… too many to discuss in an email. But I’ll just throw a couple of questions at you. Tell me this… 

“Natural selection” operates, according to the science, on what force? Where do the four forces (gravity, magnetism, strong and weak nuclear) come from? Did these evolve too?
How did the vast universe plant one little green and blue planet in one remote location in a secluded and protected arm of the Milky Way and then grow life on it?
What is the life force and why do we die?
When and how did love evolve?
Why is it that there is that one smell that reminds you of the house you grew up in?

Isn’t it true that science can only state what exists now or based on the “evidence” predict what may occur in the future? 

It’s like looking at a picture of a “family”, this evidence, you call it branch diagrams. These ones look alike and they are grouped like a family (mother, father, children, grandmother, uncle and aunt, etc.). Their DNA are similar too – Look! 80% to 100% of their DNA matches. They must be related. They must be a family then, yes? Until you find out the truth…  Everyone in the neighborhood has DNA. It even turns out that each member can be traced back to the same 10 original genetic codes… go figure. Now what?

The fact is the evidence is MISLEADING because every living thing is made of the same stuff. It even looks like it was all made in a particular order. [Imagine that - order in the universe.]  And you say that Natural Selection did it!  Pretty tricky, that NS… how could NS do it without some intelligence?

We all know the “evidence” of evolution. Your attacks on others who “don’t understand” is ridiculous. These people are educated, can read, deduce, infer, conceptualize, investigate, and understand (and they do) what ever monkey-poop you decide to throw their way. The assertions made by your victims are valid, not “fallacy”. These are their view points deduced from the body of evidence including that which you (so-called scientist) discard because it is, in your mind, associated with “religion”. (Very scientific approach by the way – you can’t SEE natural selection, but you know it’s there because of your evidence… You can’t SEE God, but you know he is there because…[if you are looking] you will see the evidence. There it is again… NS and God – two peas in a pod!)

Evidence you’ve heaved into the refuse pile so that you don’t have to think about it 
  that this perfect order — that resulted in 
our most habitable planet, in a secluded location, protected from attacks, 
housing an unbelievably diverse ecosystem that furnishes - delicious food, perfect life-giving water, materials for housing and clothing, beautiful vistas, etc.

EVERYTHING WE NEED and more —
is statistically-speaking V. HIGHLY IMPROBABLE. And moreover, it’s existence is evidence of something incredibly intelligent.

That’s right. I said it. It’s highly improbable without a CREATOR and you, I’d venture to guess that by all of your blah-blah-blahzo, already know it! 

Did I say that loud enough so you could hear it? (I only ask because you’re probably screaming at someone else at the moment.)

Ask yourself this… who’s misleading you and WHY?

Think about it.

First, I thank L. (I will be nice and not reveal the name of this correspondent) for being so concerned about me and whether I’m screaming. Actually, I’m not screaming I might have giggled just a little between bouts of scratching my head trying to figure out just what L. was saying, but I’m definitely not screaming. Second, I’m a bit puzzled. It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged about creationism, “intelligent design” creationism, or evolution, now that I think about it. L. must have found some of my older stuff. I will thus thank L. for inadvertently reminding me that I should come back to that subject more often, especially as it relates to medicine. Indeed, my Medicine and Evolution series hasn’t been updated in a scandalously long time; so I’ll definitely keep an eye out for suitable scientific studies to write about that show the utility of of the principles of evolution in understanding disease and how to treat it.

In any case, I was puzzled by the series of questions, especially these two:

Natural selection” operates, according to the science, on what force?
Where do the four forces (gravity, magnetism, strong and weak nuclear) come from?Did these evolve too?

Why is it that creationists are always bringing physics into their arguments, as if these arguments are somehow daggers thrust into the heart of the theory of evolution? For the purpose of whether evolution is true or not, it doesn’t really matter where the four forces came from; they were in existence at the time life began. As for natural selection, why does L. assume it must “operate” on a force. One could argue that natural selection is a force operating on random variation, pushing it in a direction that provides the greatest reproductive advantage to an organism, but I don’t want to push that analogy too far. As for L’s question about why there is that “one smell” that reminds you of the house you grew up in (actually, for me there isn’t; I can’t recall any one smell that reminds me of the house I grew up in), I have no idea. Perhaps L would be so kind as to explain the relevance of that question to the validity of evolution as a scientific theory.

In any case, the rest of L’s argument boils down to a slightly less obvious version of the arguments about a tornado in a junkyard assembling a 747 and the claim that because nature is complex and contains a lot of order in it, there must have been a Creator–excuse, me–Designer. My favorite bit, however, is this:

We all know the “evidence” of evolution. Your attacks on others who “don’t understand” is ridiculous. These people are educated, can read, deduce, infer, conceptualize, investigate, and understand (and they do) what ever monkey-poop you decide to throw their way. The assertions made by your victims are valid, not “fallacy”. These are their view points deduced from the body of evidence including that which you (so-called scientist) discard because it is, in your mind, associated with “religion”. (Very scientific approach by the way – you can’t SEE natural selection, but you know it’s there because of your evidence… You can’t SEE God, but you know he is there because…[if you are looking] you will see the evidence. There it is again… NS and God – two peas in a pod!)

The first part of this is, in essence, “Why are you being so mean to us? We’re intelligent.” This is the same sort of complaint frequently thrown back at me by antivaccinationists, and here’s my usual answer: So what if you’re intelligent? Intelligence without knowledge and understanding of a subject leads you astray, especially when warped by ideology. Antivaccinationists are so convinced that vaccines cause autism and/or are the Root of All Evil, causing numerous chronic illnesses, that they ignore the science that says otherwise and cherry pick any evidence they can find to damn them. Likewise, creationists, be they of the “intelligent design” variety or the more honest (albeit even more wrong) young earth variety, so believe that there absolutely must be a creator and are so troubled by the implications of evolution as far as the (lack of) uniqueness of humans as animals that they ignore the science that supports the theory of evolution and desperately cherry pick any little study they can twist into “evidence refuting Darwin.” As for calling creationists and antivaccinationists “stupid,” my retort would be: Stop saying such brain-fryingly stupid things, and I’ll stop calling you stupid.

As for the comparison to religion and science in terms of “invisible evidence,” there’s one huge difference. Science generates hypotheses that make predictions. If those predictions are falsified, so are the hypotheses, which must then be either changed, fine-tuned, or scrapped altogether in favor of new hypotheses, all based on evidence from observation and experimentation. The contrast to religious belief could not be more stark, where faith is valued above all, even when the evidence conflicts with belief.

Thus endeth the mailbag.

Comments

  1. #1 sophia8
    October 18, 2008

    How did the vast universe plant one little green and blue planet in one remote location in a secluded and protected arm of the Milky Way and then grow life on it?
    What is the life force and why do we die?
    When and how did love evolve?
    Why is it that there is that one smell that reminds you of the house you grew up in?

    Why does that sound like somebody’s lame attempt at a joke?

  2. #2 Aubrey Fi
    October 18, 2008

    I think we should listen more closely to what dan dennet has to say about why people “believe” these sorts of obviously wrong things.

    One thing he points out is that people don’t actually believe it, they just think that making people think they believe in, say, god, for instance, is a good thing. Or acting like they believe it is good. Because it makes them more moral or something.

    Really, there you sort of come to a dead end as far as reason can (with the current knowledge available) can take you, since nobody really knows whether believing these things makes you more a better person or not – I say it ruddy well does the opposite, but what impartial data do I really have? Maybe for the average joe shmoe, religion is actually beneficial. It’s concievable.

  3. #3 Danio
    October 18, 2008

    Ah yes, the old ‘belief in evolution takes faith too!’ gambit. It cracks me up that these guys always deliver such challenges with the clear expectation that we scientists will begin shuffling our feet uncomfortably as it dawns on us that our evolutionist dogma will sustain heavy damage if we dare to explore these hitherto unpondered issues. Such classic projection is wondrous to behold.

    I will thus thank L. for inadvertently reminding me that I should come back to that subject more often, especially as it relates to medicine. Indeed, my Medicine and Evolution series hasn’t been updated in a scandalously long time; so I’ll definitely keep an eye out for suitable scientific studies to write about that show the utility of of the principles of evolution in understanding disease and how to treat it.

    You just made Danio’s day.

  4. #4 penn
    October 18, 2008

    How did the vast universe plant one little green and blue planet in one remote location in a secluded and protected arm of the Milky Way and then grow life on it?

    I’m not sure in what way our arm of the Milky Way is protected or secluded, but I would think that since he admits we live in a vast universe that he would admit that it is likely that somewhere a terrestrial planet would develop at the right distance from it’s star for life to develop. With 10^21 stars to work with, the odds look a lot better.

    His argument about how well suited the Earth is for the life on it is just ridiculous. It’s like a puddle marveling at how well its hole fits its shape. Ecosystems won’t develop on planets that can’t support them. Bipedal apes won’t evolve on planets that aren’t unsuitable for bipedal apes. The earth doesn’t fit us, we fit it. That should be obvious.

  5. #5 alyric
    October 18, 2008

    “”Why are you being so mean to us? We’re intelligent.” This is the same sort of complaint frequently thrown back at me by antivaccinationists, and here’s my usual answer: So what if you’re intelligent? Intelligence without knowledge and understanding of a subject leads you astray, especially when warped by ideology.”

    OK, so L makes a series of wince-making statements displaying a broad array of ignorance of what we think we know about evolution. And he wants to be seen as ‘intelligent’ and he may well be, but not about evolution or cosmology for that matter. But ideological warping is not at all confined to the ID brigade. There are umpteen dozen atheists who think their religion gives them special insights into science and they want to be seen as ‘intelligent’ too. Time to get the religions, all of them, out of the science arena.

  6. #6 tbell1
    October 18, 2008

    I absolutely love to read letters about evolution from creationists, and I found a perfect gem the other day. It’s charming in its honesty and simplicity. For me, it was the perfect statement of a watertight worldview. I’ll paste it it here for your edification:
    Anonymous:
    I am not a scientist or psychologist and I did not understand half of what I just read. But I am comforted in that I do not have to worry about that because I know that all the scientific research and studies cannot disprove the fact that God created the world. This is not religious based, God simply Is and nothing can change that. Especially an idea that a human came up with and the world decided that it sounded good so it became fact. Its kind of funny to me that all of these really brilliant and successful scientists are going on about something that does not even exist. They could show me all the ‘evidence’ that they have come up with to prove evolution, and I would still never believe that it was true. How could anyone not believe that a majestic and all-powerful God did not create the world when they look at all of its complexities? This will confuse me till the day I die.

  7. #7 RBH
    October 18, 2008

    alyric wrote

    But ideological warping is not at all confined to the ID brigade. There are umpteen dozen atheists who think their religion gives them special insights into science and they want to be seen as ‘intelligent’ too. Time to get the religions, all of them, out of the science arena.

    There’s that lovely straw man again: “atheism = a religion.” As someone said, atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.

    Atheists have an easier time doing science because we don’t have to resist the urge to invoke supernatural forces/entities in explanations of phenomena. An unknown isn’t a sign of God, it’s a signal to do research. Some theists manage the trick, but a huge number of lay people don’t, and neither do some with credentials in science (e.g. AIG and ICR and Disco Institute people).

  8. #8 Josh in California
    October 18, 2008

    There are umpteen dozen atheists who think their religion gives them special insights into science and they want to be seen as ‘intelligent’ too.

    1. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods, not a religion.

    2a. Atheists do not have any kind of “special insights”, and I’d like to see proof that atheists are claiming that they do.

    2b. Atheists do have an advantage in science, but it’s not some bullshit “insight.” It’s the fact that we don’t resort to “god did it” as an explanation for things we don’t yet fully understand.

  9. #9 daedalus2u
    October 18, 2008

    In thinking about the train of logic presented, there are some disturbing implications. If we take as a premise that something complex, good, intelligent, self-aware and seemingly matching the environment it lives in requires a Designer, then the Designer that designed such a good and complex Universe and everything in it requires an Uber-Designer, a Designer that is even smarter, better, and more capable than the Designer that merely designed the Universe. However great the Designer is, the Uber-Designer that designed the Designer must be that much Greater. If we call the Designer “God”, there must be an Uber-Designer that designed God.

    However one never hears about the Uber-Designer which must have existed to design God. The only possible reason is that the Uber-Designer is no longer around. The only possible explanation for the Uber-Designer no longer being around is that God killed it and covered it up.

    The Greatest thing that ever existed, so Great that it was able to Design and Construct God Himself and then God destroyed it. I am sorry, but I refuse to worship any entity that is so evil and so pernicious that it has destroyed the Greatest thing that ever existed, and then tries to dupe us with some obviously wrong and foolish story that He had no Designer.

  10. #10 AL
    October 18, 2008

    There are umpteen dozen atheists who think their religion gives them special insights into science and they want to be seen as ‘intelligent’ too.

    Atheists do have an edge. It’s that their view of science is streamlined and parsimonious and without the cluttered set of presuppositions that come with being religious.

    You can of course, declare that not having religious presuppositions is itself a presupposition, just as you’re declaring that lack of religion is itself a religion…and just as the anti-evolutionists will say that accepting evidence over faith (belief without evidence) is itself a faith. You can, but it’s not a bright idea.

  11. #11 Sastra
    October 18, 2008

    (Very scientific approach by the way – you can’t SEE natural selection, but you know it’s there because of your evidence… You can’t SEE God, but you know he is there because…[if you are looking] you will see the evidence. There it is again… NS and God – two peas in a pod!)

    This is a very interesting argument, because of why the analogy fails. Natural selection is not some kind of abstract magical, invisible force guiding things along, inferred only by the evidence it leaves. It’s a term used to group together many ordinary processes which are still going on today, which can be seen and measured at any time. Some replicators reproduce, and others don’t. Viewed collectively from a distance, you can see patterns.

    L. is reifying an abstraction. It’s like someone interrupting a discussion on the development of the child, and asking where this mysterious “development energy” comes from — apart from the physical processes involved in growth, of course. I suspect that creationism — and, to an extent, theism itself — involves an inability to handle abstract thinking.

  12. #12 leigh
    October 18, 2008

    so i will only see evidence of god if i’m looking. well that explains everything!

    that whole spiel about dna just made my head hurt, i tried to find some type of logic or cohesive argument in it but couldn’t. basically, i gathered this argument: because everything has dna, evolution cannot be and there is a god. um. what?

  13. #13 trrll
    October 18, 2008

    The underlying assumption of a letter like this is that the theory of evolution is merely a rationalization for atheism. So your correspondent thinks that it is reasonable to ask apparent non-sequiturs like

    “Natural selection” operates, according to the science, on what force? Where do the four forces (gravity, magnetism, strong and weak nuclear) come from? Did these evolve too?

    Atheists certainly like the theory of evolution, because it kicks the props out from under something that theists like to point to and insist, “See, that proves there must be a God.”

    But to most scientists, evolution has about as much to do with religion as does auto mechanics. We may or may not believe in God (and I know quite a few religious scientists, all of whom accept the reality of evolution), but those of us who do, do not require Him to have created all of the species individually any more than we require Him to be hiding inside the hood of our car to make the wheels turn. Most scientists think evolution is pretty neat, and if there is a God who came up with the idea of a universe that could have something like evolution in it, that only makes God all that much more impressive.

    I think that it is safe to say that there will always be plenty of things unexplained in nature that (should you feel the need) you can point to and say, “See, God must have done that.” And the people who believe in God will nod and agree with you, and the ones who don’t believe in God will think, “We’ll figure that one out eventually, too.”

    So feel free to credit God for the big bang, or the existence of spacetime, or the invention of quantum mechanics.

    Just please, take the origin of species off the list.

  14. #14 Joseph
    October 18, 2008

    How did the vast universe plant one little green and blue planet in one remote location in a secluded and protected arm of the Milky Way and then grow life on it?

    Classic failure to understand the anthropic principle.

  15. #15 Luzid
    October 19, 2008

    “protected from attacks” – does this idiot realize he just admitted to not believing this planet is as special as he thinks?

    I only ask this because, to be “protected from attacks” means there has to be sentient life ELSEWHERE that could attack us.

    fundie morons who don’t grasp the basic facts about how science works = lulz

  16. #16 chancelikely
    October 19, 2008

    “creationists, be they of the “intelligent design” variety or the more honest (albeit even more wrong) young earth variety”

    Honestly, I think YEC spends a lot of time in “not even wrong” territory.

  17. #17 alyric
    October 19, 2008

    “Atheists have an easier time doing science because we don’t have to resist the urge to invoke supernatural forces/entities in explanations of phenomena.”

    Got any proof for that or is that yet another ‘belief’ you carry. Last time I looked, religions were sets of belief systems as distinct from say scientific knowledge. Hence your atheism is a set of beliefs, none provable in science, and hence it is a religion like any other. Belief systems, because they represent a priori assumptions tend to interfere with the scientific method.

    Now we’re all afflicted with a priori assumptions of one sort or another, so being an atheist or a buddhist for that matter should not prevent anyone from doing science. But an atheist, not willing to recognise those a priori assumptions is at a distinct disadvantage.

  18. #18 barkdog
    October 19, 2008

    Alyric,
    What a crock that is. The atheist you describe is not working from a set of a priori beliefs beyond the minimal aasumptions of science shared with her theistic counterparts. You know, things like the rules of induction and deduction, a belief in the probable regularity of nature, and so on. Not invoking, or more relevantly, not seeking to uphold particular version of, supernatual involvement is simply the application of Occam’s razor. It is most certainly an advantage, unless of course one of the theistic versions turns out to be correct. When (if) evidence ever points in that direction, most scientists will follow it. In the meantime, those who insist on basing their thought on any particular theism are almost certainly at a disadvantage.

  19. #19 Thomas
    October 19, 2008

    Now that Expelled is out on dvd you should download it and write about it for the next friday woo.

  20. #20 Calli Arcale
    October 19, 2008

    The atheist you describe is not working from a set of a priori beliefs beyond the minimal aasumptions of science shared with her theistic counterparts.

    Not all atheists are like yourself; in my experience, atheists vary about as much as theists do. Some are intellectually disciplined; many are not. Just like any other group. The disciplined ones are usually atheistic because they feel very strongly that without evidence for a god, there is no use in assuming there is one, or even leaving room for one in one’s mind. As with Stephen J Gould’s comment about gravity (“I suppose apples might rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in science classes”), it is a case of systematically and consciously selecting what appears, on close examination, to be the best-supported case.

    I would tend to regard this form of atheism as “agnosticism”. But there are fine shadings of meaning there, and not everyone likes the word “agnostic”. (And self-described agnostics vary too. Some are consciously withholding judgment on that which is untestable and, from a scientific standpoint, irrelevant. Others just don’t care. And that’s fair.)

    But not all atheists are that disciplined. I have met many who are atheistic because they deeply resent religion. If something is stated in a religion, it must be wrong, or at least viewed with extreme suspicion. (Not merely skepticism, but suspicion.) So not all atheists are so noble. Like any demographic, they vary.

  21. #21 Harry Eagar
    October 20, 2008

    ‘This will confuse me till the day I die’

    Anonymous got that right.

  22. #22 DrFrank
    October 20, 2008

    I would tend to regard this form of atheism as “agnosticism”.
    You know, I’m pretty sure that the majority of atheists would actually label this position as “atheism”. As discussed by Dawkins in The God Delusion, very few atheists, including him, would ever say “there definitely is no God”.

    Yes, atheists vary, and there are some non-rational as well as rational ones, but this position seems to be the majority one that I have come across.

  23. #23 trrll
    October 20, 2008

    Last time I looked, religions were sets of belief systems as distinct from say scientific knowledge. Hence your atheism is a set of beliefs, none provable in science, and hence it is a religion like any other. Belief systems, because they represent a priori assumptions tend to interfere with the scientific method.

    Not necessarily. There is nothing that prevents a religion from dictating a belief that is contrary to clear scientific evidence, such as the notion that the sun is a flaming chariot or that earth is only a few thousand years old. It is obviously an obstacle to doing science if one’s religion requires you to accept some particular conclusion that relates to your topic of scientific study–after all, if you think that you already know the answer to a question, what is the point of doing experiments? I don’t think that it is a coincidence that intelligent design advocates have never accomplished anything notable in biology. On the other hand, many scientists hold religious beliefs that are broad enough so as to be compatible with any scientific conclusions that they are likely to formulate.

  24. #24 Karl Withakay
    October 20, 2008

    >>His argument about how well suited the Earth is for the life on it is just ridiculous. It’s like a puddle marveling at how well its hole fits its shape.

    +1 Life exists on Earth, therefore Earth like conditions are required for Life. Earth like conditions exist on Earth, therefore Earth was intelligently designed because if it didn’t exist, life wouldn’t exist.

    Which would shoot bigger holes in this line of thinking, finding another Earth like planet with life or finding a non-Earth like planet with life?

    Neither, the goal posts would be shifted to use either scenario as further proof of intelligent design.

  25. #25 Flex
    October 20, 2008

    Alyric wrote, early on, “Time to get the religions, all of them, out of the science arena.”

    Um. I don’t think this sentence means what you think it should.

    Atheism is not a religion, no more than baldness is a hair color. So it cannot be in what you call the science arena. For that matter, most religion isn’t involved in the actual practice of science either.

    What I interpert you as saying is that you think that scientists shouldn’t invoke their authority as scientists to argue against religion. Here’s news for you Alyric; they don’t. Every book I’ve read in which a scientist discusses religious beliefs has presented evidence and logical arguments why those religous beliefs are either suspect or outright wrong.

    Any authority you happen to grant them is not authority they asked for. Further, they have as much right to express their arguments as a plumber or a pope.

    Are you suggesting that out of repect for their profession they should practise self-censorship? What a silly idea.

    Flex

    P.S. What the heck is a science arena anyway? Is it like Iron Chef?

    Tonight, in classroom stadium, a newcomer to the mathematical world will face off against the Iron Prof!

    Who’s new meme will reign supreme!

  26. #26 Andrew
    October 23, 2008

    I’m a big fan of gravitronic evolution myself.

    If you backshift the spiritual flow to counteract the toxic build up whilst reversing the quantum polarity in the crystal matrix, you can unlock your Hidden Potential and Transform Your Life Into What You Always Dreamed Of. I would tell you exactly how but my years of Scientific Research and legal battles with The Man who wants to Shut Me Down have been expensive – so I can tell you all you need to know about how to make your dreams of peace, love and prosperity come true in th from of a mail order course, all for the SUPER LOW price of only $49.99 a month.

    Phew. Thats harder than it looks, you know.